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Indian sportsmen succeeded despite racism – book

Author Dr Geoff Watson

While there have been a few New Zealand cricketers of Indian origin, including the current Black Cap Tarun Nathula, it’s not an easy ride in the sporting field for minorities, suggests a historian in a new book.

The courage of Kiwi Indian pioneers in forming sporting clubs against the odds is captured in the book “Sporting Foundations of New Zealand Indians” by historian Dr Geoff Watson.

The book’s launch is timely as Auckland is named the number two sports city in the world.

Geoff, a senior lecturer in history at Massey’s School of Humanities, says he was struck by the remarkable courage the pioneers showed in founding these clubs in the 1930s, a time when there were only 1200 Indians in New Zealand.

Author Dr Geoff Watson

“The founders of these clubs travelled half-way around the world and were trying to make their way in a new country which is difficult enough, but many of the Indian immigrants had little, if any, English.

“Moreover, racist sentiment was openly expressed in New Zealand during this time, even government publications such as the 1921 Census warning ‘the coalescence of the white and the so-called coloured races is not conducive to improvement in racial types’,” Geoff says.

However, some local sport icons helped Indian talent. Eddie McLeod, then captain of the New Zealand Hockey team, was the first coach of Wellington Indian Sports Club.

“Given this background, and with many of the young Indian men working long hours for low pay, it would have been very easy to have put sport in the ‘too hard’ basket. But they pressed ahead and formed clubs, despite the opposition of some of their elders,” Geoff says.

The oldest of the clubs, Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, were founded in the 1930s and inspired, in part, by Indian hockey teams, which toured New Zealand in 1926, 1935 and 1938.

From the first clubs and inter-club games the national association was founded in 1962. It now oversees a cricket tournament, golf tournament, an Under-23 men’s and women’s hockey tournament and Queen’s Birthday tournament, which attracts approximately 25 teams in three codes: hockey, netball and soccer.

Many Indians who played in these tournaments have since gone on to achieve representative honours at provincial and national level.

Geoff is impressed that all of this has been achieved on a voluntary basis, which is a “remarkable achievement at a time when many sports operate on a professional basis”.

The book  is published by the New Zealand Indian Sports Association which celebrated its 50th jubilee this year.

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